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What is the “standard of care” in medical malpractice?

People who get medical care expect that their medical team will care for them in an acceptable manner. They usually assume that each person who cares for them has each patient’s best interests in mind. While this is what usually happens, there are times when it doesn’t.

From a legal standpoint, patients have the right to receive care that at least meets a standard of care. This is a challenging concept because the standard of care isn’t the same in every situation. 

What affects the standard of care?

The standard of care is what a reasonable person in the same position would do based on the information presented. In the medical field, there are several factors that determine the standard of care. 

  • Training of the doctor: Doctors go through specific training depending on what type of doctor they are, so a specialist would be held to a higher standard in their field than a general practitioner. 
  • Information present: Doctors can only make a diagnosis based on the information they have, so they must count on accurate test results. If tests aren’t available and a doctor has to make a snap decision in an emergency, a lower standard of care is to be expected.
  • Capabilities at the facility: Doctors are sometimes limited by the equipment and capabilities of the medical facility where they’re working.

For example, a family practitioner in a rural area wouldn’t be held to the same standard as a cardiologist in a state-of-the-art facility if a patient comes in with chest pains. A plastic surgeon’s standard of care for suturing would be higher than the standard of care for an emergency department doctor. 

Proving that a doctor didn’t meet the standard of care in a medical malpractice lawsuit can be a challenge. Oftentimes, an expert witness is necessary to prove the case. It’s imperative that you have someone on your side who’s familiar with these matters.